The Arts

When Bhagwat Rawat’s Melodic ‘Desh’ Meets Mohan Bhagwat’s Screeching ‘Rashtra’

A new video gives us a timely reminder of what patriotism is really about.

Aapko apna rashtra mubarak
mujhe to apna desh chahiye
(You keep your nation
I just want my country).

Popular Hindi poet Bhagwat Rawat wrote these lines about ten years ago in  ‘Desh ek raag hai’ to explore the contesting ideas of rashtra (nation) and desh (country). Last month, just in time for Republic Day, Rawat’s family turned the poem into a video with Tigmanshu Dhulia, Ratna Pathak Shah and Rasika Duggal emoting the verses.

Set in a dialogic format, the poem examines the essence of the words ‘desh’ and ‘rashtra’. It begins with Rawat aspiring to give a Republic Day speech in the name of the country and not the nation. He then pits the melodic desh against an aggressive rashtra, retracing the journey of India from being a country to a nation.

The poem, as Rawat clarifies, isn’t a literal analysis of the two words but what they entail in their separate contexts. While the rashtra, according to Rawat, boasts of the “21 gun salute” that says “savdhaan” or beware, desh is a musical raag that only sings of unity in diversity.

For the video, his granddaughter, Parul Rawat  – who is also a writer – worked as a creative consultant; Malhar Salil directed the recording and the poet’s daughter Shruti Rawat played sitar in the background.

Tale of two Bhagwats

The poem comes at a time when the language of politics is fraught with aggressive nationalism, with the word rashtra at the centre. A few months ago, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat at his organisation’s three-day lecture series on the ‘Future of Bharat: An RSS perspective’ struck an unusually softer tone in speaking about a Hindu rashtra that would be inclusive of Muslims.

What was implicit, however, was that the rashtra would be one where the minority communities must follow the path of the majority. His previous speeches have also promoted the idea of a monolithic rashtra which the poet Bhagwat (almost his namesake) clearly detests.

‘Desk ek raag hai’ therefore rightfully resonated with a lot of people who believe in upholding an alternative kind of nationalism, the kind which is steadily fading away. In this context, Parul Rawat spoke about the need to revive the poem as it dismantles the unidimensional idea of nation love.

“The country has become a monolithic entity where there are only few ways a person can be called a responsible citizen – and any voice of dissent is aggressively criticised and threatened. If you observe, even the films for the past few weeks were based on the same rhetoric of jingoism,” said Parul.

‘Personal is political’

The poem problematises the idea of nation we take utmost pride in and the country we have forgotten. “The poem is talking about a desh which is full of colours and aatmiyata (compassion), and that is something we must value over jingoism. So it is the ideal time to get this thought into the world, especially when there are so many narratives around the idea of nation streaming in the popular media,” she added.

She notes that her grandfather’s body of work has primarily been around the idea of the ‘personal is political’, which enabled him to not only observe the world with a political perspective, but to also turn the eye on himself.

All through his life, he never stopped calling spade a spade. His other poems –‘Kachra beenne vali ladki’, ‘Badalte hue mausam ka misaaj’, ‘Humne unke ghar dekhe’ and many others – addressed issues of both the mainstream as well as the marginalised but with no pretence.

‘Poetry film’

The style and texture of the video version of ‘Desh ek raag hai’ retains the simplicity of his poems. There are no colours in the frame and the actors read the lines in a common citizen’s voice. While Tigmanshu Dhulia states the facts in his serious tone, Ratna Pathak Shah makes effective use of sarcasm.

Rasika Duggal adds a personal touch to the recitation, bringing alive the semantic confusion. At one point, she replaces the word desh with rashtra to show the difference between the two (‘Main Bharat desh ka nagrik hoon. Main Bharat rashtra ka nagrik hoon’). In between the takes, there are also some silent moments for the viewers to think and reflect.

As they recite, the sitar – playing Raag Desh in the background – traverses different scales to enhance the narration and the pakhawaj paces it up towards the end when Dhulia recites ‘Mujhe to mera desh chahiye (I just want my country)’. However, neither of these elements overwhelms the poem in any way. “I didn’t want the film and actors to overpower the poem. I was trying to make it a piece which is nothing showy yet has an appeal to it,” said Malhar Salil, the director.

Although there are cinematic elements, the film (or ‘poetry film’) remains as serene and simple as the original. “It can be called a poetry film as it uses cinema as a medium to narrate a poem. I use characterisation, camera movements, dramatic pauses, musical instruments and other filmmaking tools only to engage the audience. In essence, the form we chose had to support the content and the poem demanded a simple and effective read,” Salil added.

At a time when the dominant political discourse is all about building a belligerent rashtra (that is implicitly or explicitly ‘Hindu’ as well) and popular culture amplifies this, ‘Desh ek raag hai’ reminds us that country – with its values and ethos and diversity – stands above nation/state. Bhagwat Rawat seems to encapsulate all his emotions towards the end of the poem when he writes,

Aapko ikkis topon ki salaami mubarak,
mujhe aasmaan me lehraata tiranga chahiye
(You keep your 21-gun salute,
I want my tricolour fluttering in the sky).

You can read the full poem below.

देश एक राग है by on Scribd